The Art of Growing Up Latchkey

Genevieve Esh

More stories from Genevieve Esh

December 14, 2022

Fuel for rebellious kids who play all day and work all night.

Picture this: it’s the 2000s/early 2010s and you’re getting off the school bus after a long day of fifth grade. Growing up with my textbook case of the latchkey kid status, this scenario was the basis of the majority of my extracurricular activities. 

After the school day, my parents were still off at work, and my two older sisters allotted their time between high school theater and part-time jobs. 

Having omnipotent independence and the house to myself every afternoon gave me an unchecked power I took full advantage of. 

On the daily, I would sneak cans of Mountain Dew from my dad’s not-so-secret stash (sorry dad), watch VHS Disney movies on the big box TV until someone came home from work and I would act as if I had been doing homework all afternoon.

I would also sneak off to play in the woods with my neighbors. Not to worry, I always locked the door behind me. I was not about to let anyone break into my house while I was breaking my mom’s “homework first, play second” rule (sorry mom). 

Despite my decade-long stint of stealing soda and feigning studiousness, I turned out alright and even made it to college (hey UWEC). I’ve kicked my habit of taking people’s soda, but I can’t really say the same about procrastinating.

My newfound college independence — and a blatant lack of parental supervision — makes me feel thoroughly nostalgic for my latchkey childhood and the dependence on my imagination for auto-entertainment. This dependence has returned in stride.

I’ve started revisiting my old habits of having spent afternoons with the neighbor kids and watching my choice of TV before my sisters came home and claimed seniority over the remote. Thankfully I learned to enjoy their choice of entertainment.

This modern take on my latchkey name is now defined by spending hours with my new neighbors and rewatching my comfort TV shows.

“Gilmore Girls” and “Criminal Minds” were my sisters’ picks when we were growing up, while I was a diehard Shirley Temple and Tinkerbell fan. 

I’ll hand it to my sisters, they have always had great taste in TV, which —almost — makes up for the time-outs they put me in and the times they locked me out of the house. We typically spent our free time far apart to avoid outright arguing.

No hard feelings though, we’re close now and I eventually got a taste of sweet sweet freedom. Plus, I must’ve deserved it. I could be pretty annoying — especially given our age gap with them nearing graduation while I was approaching double digits.

This would eventually lead me to pursue creative storytelling through my art and writing as a formal career. I accredit my latchkey childhood for where I have ended up.

As much as I had wished to be in ballet classes and Girl Scouts at the time: I am now immensely grateful for being left to my own devices so I could learn how to stave off boredom solely armed with my imagination and contraband soda.

Esh can be reached at [email protected].